Coming Attractions

Back from almost a week in Boston, where I went to see and hear Tom Russell’s debut of his new Ballad of the West, The Rose of Roscrae; also to see my 90 year- old mother, whose birthday I had missed, my siblings– 4 of out of 8 of them still live there, as well as any number of splendid nephews and nieces: and to eat sea creatures, as well as have any other adventures possible for an impoverished 65 year old writer badly in need of brain surgery.

It was a success, from music to family encounters to food, and paid what may well be an unexpected dividend; my brother in law George Graham, avocational naturalist- localist and photographer,introduced me to his town’s restored herring (alewife) run, and our mutual fascination with it became my unexpected second theme for the visit- who knows what may come?

Tonight, a preview and glimpses; I have an assignment to write on Tom, and many herring photos too, all to come.

 Coffee house nostalgia– I went to the predecessor of Passim, Club 47, (47 Palmer Street in Harvard Square) from about 1966 or 7 on. I saw Ian Tyson, who is now 82 and who I met when he played with Tom in Santa Fe, with his then wife Sylvia there, before 1970 anyway…

On the subway with K:

Sideman Thad Beckman; later, local singer Barrence Whitfield, who recorded more than a few songs with Tom back when… Cuban Sandwich!

My mother: “You look OLD”, she said to me. “And I am NOT convinced I’m 90, either!”

Sisters Alicia, Anita, Karen…

The blurred one below is, I believe, my sisters (and niece Stella) expressing solidarity with their geographically wayward brother, or something equally hilarious. Beware the Sister Posse…. (sorry for blur), and me with Wendy, closest in age to me.

The run- got an article’s worth, but some highlights– restored urban anadromous fish spawning, with predators! (Comorant by Lisa Erwin, Weymouth MA)

Horned Rifles and other Asian Firearms

Dave at Prick- Eared sent me a link to this story on a village in China , where the inhabitants are allowed at least primitive firearms. In strictly “gun free” China, this makes it a great tourist attraction, a situation something like allowing the Naxi to have their goshawk – based falconry. (As a tourist attraction, of course. Falconry is also practiced by Moslems in China’s west and Manchus up on the Amur, and even in urban Beijing, using sparrowhaks on fishing reels from bicycles; how legally I don’t know).

Asia is where every old firearm design from matchlocks on is still used. Mongolia is full of snaphaunce flintlocks circa 1620, like the ones called “primitive” in Vladimir Bergovoy’s tranlation of Cherkassov’s 1865 East Siberian Hunter. I have one.

Libby bartered for all the accessories, including a bullet mold, a powder horn, measure, starter ramrod. The trigger or naragon was missing, but local gun guru John Besse made one and it is shooting again. The whole packet,  from Ulan Bataar to Magdalena plus work, didn’t cost 50$! Details: accessories…


 Many Mongolian flinters are ornate and long- barreled. Here is Kent Madin firing one in 1996.

Notice the bipod designed to look like gazelle horns. Horned riles, using real or artificial horns, are still common in Asia, on the matchlocks the Chinese still allow in Tibet for hunting, through Mongolia, where modern firearms have become popular (CZ Mauser 22’s and Baikal shotguns are most common where I have been), but some traditionalists still shoot muzzleloaders, to Siberia. I think most hunters there now favor the Mosin Nagant and SKS, but I bet a few still shoot rifles Cherkassov would have recognized.

Below, a friend of Cat’s examines a gazelle- horned carbine in UB; modern hunters in Olgii, Mongolia, with CZ (giving hot sugared tea to their eagle on the frozen river) and at end of day, by me; a page from Leonard Clark in the fifties with all manner of horned rifles, from a matchlock like those still used in Tibet upper and center right, to a modern rifle with the ubiquitous bipod upper left…

Music Lessons

Q loves rock and country, but Libby and I were brought up on classical and love it too. Both she and Jackson can play well; to my eternal regret I never learned.

We liked this essay in defense of obligatory lessons for the young, written in response to one against the idea.

“I do think that classical music is, in some respect, bigger than other kinds of music. The music has been going on for five hundred years as a self-conscious tradition, dedicated to an extended meditation on a series of musical structures so limited as nearly to be arithmetical. And the meditations have reflected on one another, and, over the centuries, sometimes they have advanced.

“You are free to see in this 500-year meditation something very close to a mystical or Pythagorean inquiry into beauty, if you would like.”

Joel? Jack?

The Real Indy

Paleoblog reminds us that it is Roy Chapman Andrews’ birthday. (HT Walter Hingley, once again). Naturalist, intrepid explorer, bone digger, hunter (he shot a Mannlicher- Schonauer 1903 carbine like mine, Savage Model 99’s, and Savage bolt actions in .250- 3000), writer, self- promoter, and sometime director of the American Museum of Natural History, he was the closest thing to Indiana Jones in the real world.

Father Bakewell knew him, and he was a childhood idol of mine.He may have rubbed more modest scientists the wrong way, but he had a genius for finding remarkable things even while looking for others; his expedition discovered dinosaur eggs in a nest, iconic fossils which I saw and touched in Ulan Bataar, while looking for human ancestors.

His many books are still readable. You can join the Roy Chapman Andrews Society here.

Never let it be said that he was not an inspiration…

Returning to Service

Mostly polishing off, with endless revisions, the Book O’ Books, done for months but still being tweaked, also endless Good- But- Endless visitors, end of holiday and other serious food, arthritis and steroids and two major dog operations and too much to drink, and far too little to chase…

Any weariness in these lines is less about telling stories which I still love but about having to spend far too much packaging them, and knowing that if you don’t watch out, they will sink without a trace. Or as frontier ornithologist Elliot Coues said, way back during the Indian Wars; “I have seen a mule’s ears disappear in genuine mud…”

So, before resuming serious broadcasting on anything from literature to guns (can’t have too many/ much of either) a few images. First: Bosque del Apache; the Rio’s & the Fed’s farm for wildlife, at Christmas, by John Wilson:

“Life has really not stopped, and the world is really not a museum yet”*. Old men still chase hounds, even if they need strong drink after…

All over the world…

Older men and younger women make art (“Their eyes, their ancient glittering eyes**…”

Peace still may need an AK 47 (The Madins with appropriate props near Hovdsgol)

But the old can still amaze the young: Joel Becktell, mother Niki, and Eli Frishman Dec 2012, Magdalena

All this & more coming in Q, 2013. Thanks all! * is Ted Hughes and I bet everybody knows ** is Yeats in Lapis Lazuli.


The Hansons are back from their Egyptian expedition with the Explorers Club flag– and will (both Roseann and Jonathan I hope) be writing something here.


“It was fantastic. Probably the most challenging driving I’ve had over such an extended journey. Many difficult climbs to cross dune chains, then 60mph blasts across huge rolling sand sheets. Our guide very, very nearly capsized his Land Cruiser on a loose side slope the first day out. Stuck fast with a dicey recovery – we anchored his vehicle with a line to the roof rack to keep it from going over as we pulled it out…

“And we felt like rock stars the entire trip. People kept coming up to us and thanking us for coming, shaking our hands, some nearly in tears.”

Tamgaly Rock Art

Whether because of (quite plausible) shared ancestry or (more I would think) the “Darwinian” demands of environment, climate, and materials, both rock art and vernacular architecture resemble each other in central Asia and the dry west. Compare Reid’s images below to these from Tamgaly, in the dry steppes a couple of hours north of Almaty in Kazakhstan.

The site:

A similar local site- basalt, stone cairn “wolf watchers”, petros nearby…

Hagay and his cousin with panels (Asian T shirts– don’t ask):

More panels, some separated by hundreds of years or more– this is a palimpsest, not a unified work.

The horned horse, which Gorbatov painted– we both saw saker falcons there…

The enigmatic Sunhead– similar images exist in America:

There is half a book’s worth more to say, one I hope to write eventually. Meanwhile Reid probably knows more than I do. For a good overview read Renato Sala’s account in Kazakhstan by Dagmar Schreiber. Not only is he my go- to guy on the subject; it is the best book, and full of work by Kazakh friends of Q.

Soon: architecture (Canat to Kazakhs: “Stev lives in a Kazakh house– he even puts plastic on the windows!”)

And re Sala: an Almaty- based Italian archaeologist and the leading expert on rock art, he is still very Euro– shaven headed and stubbled, kissing his fingers through a haze of Gauloise smoke: “..and the women here are so beautiful, no? Jengiz or Stalin or somebody must have killed all the ugly ones!”

Wild East

Here are a few irresistible photos from Lib’s friend Jeff Foott, who we saw in Wyoming and who just returned from our old haunts in Western Mongolia.

The third is just nice and speaks for itself. What I love about the other two is the way the Wild East partakes of all technologies from the Neolithic to the 21’st century’s simultaneously; a bit “cyberpunk” in style rather than Edwardian Steampunk…